This year we seem inundated with slick CGI animation and not all of it from the traditional twin giants of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks. Gil Kenan, a first time director, was given a large budget and free reign by Spielberg& Zemekis to helm Monster House, and has come up with a truly scary Goonies for the noughties.
DJ (Mitchel Musso) is 12 and lives across the street from a creepy house owned by the quite frightening Mr Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) who terrifies children who step on his lawn. DJ’s parents go away for the Halloween weekend and leave the bored babysitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to drink beer, invite guys round and listen to loud death metal.
DJ’s best friend Chowder (Sam Learner) loses his ball on Nebbercracker’s lawn and, in an altercation with DJ, Mr Nebbercracker is taken ill and rushed to hospital. Along the way they meet up with Jenny (Spencer Locke) an uptight but clever girl and the three of them discover that the house is alive and trying to eat members of the neighbourhood. With Hallowe’en night approaching and no one currently in residence it is up to the children to try and stop the monster house from taking every child who comes near.
Much like the eighties classic, The Goonies, it is the children who have to save the day while the adults don’t believe them and end up stumbling in to danger. What’s clever about Monster House is that it actually is quite scary; the house holds some quite unpleasant surprises and a truly disturbing secret. The dialogue is inventive and often hilarious, especially when the two boys are trying to impress Jenny, although Chowder gets the best lines.
The real stars of the show for any adult going are the secondary characters. Jon Heder, of Napoleon Dynamite fame, is a truly genius choice as Reginald “Skull” Skulinski the slacker video gaming guru the children consult on how best to defeat a monster house. Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic as the bored babysitter who is not quite as cool as she thinks and has captured the mannerisms and tics of a teenager. Jason Lee has perfected the slacker voice and is equal parts creepy, funny and irritating as Bones.
At times the mannerism of the characters seem a little too deliberately eccentric and it’s obvious that at least some of the movement is done by motion capture, however the expressions on the faces are wonderful and the animation is crisp and really well done.
Monster House is definitely not for very young children or those who are particularly sensitive to this kind of horror and why on earth this film is being brought out now instead of Hallowe’en is a complete mystery. However, if you’re a fan of CG animation and children’s films with a dark twist then this is the one for you.